SPRINGFIELD – Clark State Community College will expand the Champion City Scholars program into Champaign County this fall. Champion City Scholars is a participatory program for middle to high school students that, if successfully completed, results in three years of tuition-free education at Clark State. Graham local schools and Urbana local schools will pilot the Champaign County Scholars program with plans to later expand into additional Champaign County districts.
The Clark State Foundation and the Graham and Urbana school districts will work together to identify 20 low-income middle school students who will become the first in their families to earn a college degree. Upon their graduation from high school, the students will be eligible for three years of college at Clark State, at no cost to the students. Volunteer mentors will encourage the students from eighth grade through their third year of college. Enrichment experiences will include career exploration, cultural appreciation and cultivating a sense of responsibility to give back to the community.
“Patrick Field was instrumental in the development of Champion City Scholars in 2004 in the Springfield City School District,” said Dr. Jo Alice Blondin, president of Clark State. “He was one of the visionaries behind the program, and he is now doing the same with our expansion into Champaign County.”
Field, president of Wallace and Turner Insurance in Springfield, and owner of Coppertop Restaurant in Urbana, is a strong advocate for education.
“I was raised knowing that education is absolutely paramount for someone to better their community and better themselves,” he said. “I’ve seen how Champion City Scholars has worked in Springfield and how the community responded to the program; Urbana is a community with a similar need.”
Field has contributed financially to Champion City Scholars and mentored students from the inception of the program. “This is one of the few things in life with no losers,” said Field. “The community wins, Urbana and Graham win, kids win, parents win, Clark State wins, Urbana University wins.”
Clark State Foundation Director Catherine Maher said the Champaign County Scholars program will mirror the Champion City Scholars program in several ways, but will specifically address the needs of students in Champaign County. “We are working with staff at Graham and Urbana schools and community members to make sure the program addresses the specific challenges and opportunities in Champaign County,” she said.
Maher said a major component of the program would be the community mentors. “The mentors work in pairs with small groups of students, meeting with them on at least a monthly basis,” she said. “Over the course of the program, these community members provide an additional layer of support for students.” Eligible students and families will receive information about the Champaign County Scholars opportunity this summer in preparation for the first selection of scholars in the fall.
Urbana University has been a strong partner throughout the expansion process, and Clark State is working with them on ways to ensure students in the Champaign County Scholars program are able to transfer and complete their bachelor’s degree at Urbana University. “The many partnerships and transfer agreements that we already have with Urbana/Franklin will create a lot of opportunities for students to complete their education at Urbana,” said Maher.
Graham Middle School will launch the Champaign County Scholars program as the Soar Scholars program. “Soar isn’t an acronym, it’s the outcome we hope for in this unique scholarship program,” said Steve Setty, president of the Graham local school board. “With support in and out of the classroom, we want each individual student to soar, to realize their dream of a college education.”
With each successive class, scholarship opportunities will be available to students with the goal to expand access to post-secondary education with partners from Clark State’s Foundation. Students will take part in several structured activities each year with staff from Clark State and meet regularly with selected mentors to develop their individual goals.
“This program will combine mentoring and wraparound services with academic opportunities that expose students to secondary career paths,” said Graham Local School District Superintendent Kirk Koennecke. “It will push a group of students with unique needs to new heights. Students will get to explore their personal career paths with mentoring and supports so they can be successful.”
Charles Thiel, superintendent of the Urbana City School District, said he believes the expansion of the Scholars program will be a great benefit to Urbana students. “Many of our students do not aspire to attend college because they just can’t imagine themselves as college students,” he said. “I believe this program will provide the students with the support and confidence they need to think differently about their futures.”
Thiel is looking forward to Urbana students participating in the program and beginning their journey towards post-secondary opportunities. “I believe the mentoring included in this program will be a great asset to the program and the community,” he said.
The Champion City Scholars program will continue with the Springfield City School District, but will also expand into the county schools in 2018. Following the partnership with Urbana and Graham schools, the Champaign County Scholars program also plans expand into additional schools.
Field and Clark State Foundation board members from Champaign County have been actively engaging community members about the program. To date, $135,000 has been pledged toward a goal of a $750,000 endowment. “We have time to raise the funds, and pledges can be paid over a period of five years,” said Maher. “We’re making a long-term commitment to these students and their families, and the endowment will ensure that we keep our promise of a free college education. The money we are raising for this program will directly benefit Champaign County students.”
For more information on the Champaign or Champion City Scholars programs, contact Catie Maher at 937-328-8070.